with Joe Barth
Other guitarists look up to Jack Wilkins because they say that he can do it all on the guitar. Jack maintains a busy playing schedule that often includes international travel. I met Jack at his upper Westside apartment in New York City for our Listening Test.
(In the “Before” section, the musical selection is played for the listening artist without revealing who is performing. The “After” section is when the listening artist knows who is performing. Everything said is from the artist.)
Barney Kessel: “It’s All Right with Me” from Poll Winners Three; Contemporary Records QXCO-692 Barney Kessel: guitar; Ray Brown: bass; Shelly Mann: drums 1959
Before: It’s Barney.
After: It is one of the Poll Winners. Barney is one of the big influences in my life. What I loved about Barney was his humor. He had such a great way of coming up with these arrangements. He swung so hard. First thing I heard of Barney’s was with Sonny Rollins and he did this incredible solo on “How High the Moon.” This was the early 1960’s. So I went out and bought all his Poll Winner albums. Those albums showed us what the guitar trio could really do. They were very full sounding.
He like, Tal Farlow and a few others, was one of the first early guitar players to do some really interesting chord solos. They were chord guys.
I was able to get to know him personally, though I never played with him.
Howard Alden: “Very Early” from Pow-Wow; Arbors Records ARCD 19340; Howard Alden: guitar; Ken Peplowski: clarinet 2007
Before: That’s Howard. Is that the My Story album? No.
After: This is great. Howard is one of my all time favorite players. I know, because I play with him a lot. He knows a million songs. His technique is stunning. He doesn’t do traditional things. I’ve heard him do Chick Corea tunes. He has tremendous ears, he knows all the inside chord changes. He has great tone. I’ve never seen someone play so relaxed. He is like a Cadillac smoothly going down the road.
Wes Montgomery: “The Way You Look Tonight” from Guitar On the Go: Riverside Records QJCCD-389-2: Wes Montgomery: guitar; Mel Rhyne: organ; George Brown: drums; 1963
Before : (laughter) Guitar on the Go.
After: I was very lucky to see Wes. Listen to that. What a sound! With his thumb I am not sure that he plays up strokes as well as down strokes. I am still not sure. This is the alternate take.
I was so blown away by Wes’ sound. He brought to my attention the importance of developing your own sound. His sound is so personal. It is very open and has a wonderful spirit. He is so joyous on stage. I love even the CTI and A&M things he did. He played so great. I like this better.
Johnny Smith: “I Remember You” from The Complete Roost Johnny Smith Small Group Sessions Disc VIII: Mosaic Records MD8-216 72435-44255-2-2; Johnny Smith: guitar; Bob Green: piano; Bill Bastien: bass; Daryl Goes: drums 1964
Before : (Immediately) Johnny Smith.
After: This recording quality is not the best. Johnny plays so great. He is the guitarist that made me want to play jazz guitar. I tried to play just like him for years. I worked through all his books and transcribed many of his solos. It is all unbelievable guitar music. I learned an incredible amount about music by listening and analyzing Johnny Smith. He made me realize what a guitar should sound like. A lot of guys don’t play the guitar thinking about sound or intonation, phrasing or technique or harmonic movements.
He codified everything that went on before him. You can hear in him a little George Van Eps, Jimmy Raney, Charlie Christian and the classical approach in him. I love those stretch fingerings.
Grant Green: “You Stepped Out of Dream” from Standards; Blue Note CDP-21284; Grant Green: guitar; Wilbur Ware: bass; Al Harewood: drums 1961
Before : Is this Rene Thomas’? I should know this. I know he is not American. He is American. (long pause)
After: It’s Grant Green. I should have got that. This is a little different for him. He is wonderful player. He can sometimes be a little tiresome with a lot of repetitive phrases. He rarely plays chords. It is not for me. I find this track a little tedious.
Lonnie Johnson & Eddie Lang: “Guitar Blues” from Hittin’ On All Six Vol. 1; Proper Records Box 9; Lonnie Johnson & Eddie Lang: guitar 1929
Before : Lonnie Johnson and Eddie Lang. This is great.
After: Of all of these Johnson/Lang duets I have heard, Eddie plays mostly rhythm and Lonnie plays the solos. Lonnie Johnson is the most influential early guitarist other than Charlie Christian. Because Lonnie was one of the first guitarists to play lines and to build phrases which was very unusual for the 1920s. I am sure that Charlie Christian would have heard Lonnie and was influenced by him. Lonnie played such sophisticated lines.
Eddie Lang was also innovative in his chording. Eddie also played under the name of Blind Willie Dunn because of the racial issues of the day.
Bucky Pizzarelli: “Lady Be Good” from NY Swing; LRC LTD. CDC 9045; Bucky Pizzarelli: guitar; John Bunch: piano; Jay Leonhart: bass; Joe Cocuzzo: drums 1991
Before : It’s Bucky.
After: John Bunch on piano and Jay Leonhart on bass. What a tempo! He reminded me a little of Oscar Moore or Irving Ashby and Nat Cole.
Bucky has been a good friend. He got me some studio work when I first started. He has always been a wonderful supporter. He is so fun to play with. There is no competition with him like there can sometimes be between guitar players.
He plays the 7 string so well. I could never play a 7 string in a million years, but he sure can.
Tal Farlow: “Fascinating Rhythms” from A Sign of the Times; Concord Records: CCD-4026; Tal Farlow: guitar; Hank Jones: piano; Ray Brown: bass 1977
Before : It’s later Tal with Hank Jones.
After: You can almost feel the drums but of course, there are no drums. That is how Tal plays rhythm guitar. Tal is one of my idols along with Johnny and Barney.
I love Tal’s melodic sense. He had a tremendous ability to phrase a melody. This being later, 1977, his time is a little funny in spots. His ideas are so clever. I tried to plays some of his solos working out the transcriptions and fingerings and I still couldn’t play them up to tempo. They are that hard. I would sing them to get his phrasing. His solo on “Fascinating Rhythms” on the album Interpretations is so logically put together it is like it is composed in advance.
He took wild chances on the guitar. He would go after and play whatever came to his head. Tal was more raw in his playing.
The last time I saw Tal was at his apartment on 63rd street and he was playing along with that Jamey Aebersold CD Burnin’ that has “Cherokee” in all twelve keys. I thought it funny that he would be working on that. He was playing great. It was just before he died.
Pat Metheny: “Indri” from Tokyo Day Trip Live Nonesuch Records 487950-2; Pat Metheny: guitar; Christian McBride: bass; Antonio Sanchez: drums 2007
Before : I don’t know this. Is it Martin Taylor? It could be Pat Metheny?
After: This is wonderful. Pat is a brilliant player. He composes so well. His playing is magnificent but his composing is even more. His record Letter from Home was a big influence upon me. I loved listening to it. I listened to it over and over. I stole some ideas from it. I liked that first record Bright Size Life.
Jim Hall: “Scapple from the Apple” from Jim Hall Live A&M Records: 428-2; Jim Hall: guitar; Don Thompson: bass; Terry Clarke: drums 1975
Before : (guitar solo starts) That’s Jim Hall.
After: Jim is playing a lot of good stuff. He has chops but he doesn’t always show them off. Like Johnny Smith he plays great music on the guitar. He has great phrasing.
The Bridge with Sonny and Live at the Village Gate with Art Farmer are monumental records. He is one of the all time great players. He composes as he improvises.
George Barnes: “Honeysuckle Rose” from Plays So Good Concord Records CCD-4057; George Barnes: guitar; Duncan James: rhythm guitar; Benny Barth: bass; Dean Reilly: drums
Before : George Barnes
After: This is great stuff and it is swinging full and hard. I got to know his playing later. When I was young I thought of his playing as corny, but I was wrong. It is not corny at all. He swings so hard. What I understand about his technique, he played everything down stroke. Like Wes with his thumb, how did he do that?
Chuck Wayne: “Conception” from Jazz Club Guitar: Verve Records 840-035-2; Chuck Wayne: guitar; George Shearing: piano; Magorie Hyane: vibes; John Levy: bass; Denzel Best: drums 1949
Before: (immediately) Chuck Wayne. I know this track. I know Chuck’s playing. I have this on video.
After: I knew Chuck and had the fortune to play with him at these jam sessions in Brooklyn. It was quite the thing in those days. Nobody plays better than Chuck, different, but not better. He knew everything there was to know about the instrument. He had these stunning chord patterns. He was a complete musician in terms of reading and improvising. Frank Gambale uses the same right hand picking technique.
Baden Powell: “Samba Triste” from Jazz Club Guitar: Verve Records 840-035-2; Baden Powell: guitar; Steve Swallow: bass; Bob Moses: drums 1967
After: What a tremendous player, a real innovator. I played with him twice. I wrote a tune “For Baden” that is on my Trio Art album. I love the modern nylon string guitar players but Baden does something for me when I listen to him.
Rene Thomas: “Spontaneous Effort” from Guitar Groove Jazzland Records 927-S: other musicians 1960
Before: (opening drum solo) That’s Rene Thomas. I don’t even need to hear the guitar to know this is Rene.
After: I transcribed this solo. The tune is based on “Out of Nowhere.” He wasn’t as well known as other guitarists. I was so knocked out when I first heard it. Rene’s flow of lines are very similar to Jimmy Raney as also is his attack. Sadly, he died quite young. I have most everything Rene recorded and this is by far my favorite recording of his.
Carl Kress & Dick McDonough: “Danzon” from Progressions: 100 Years of Jazz Guitar; Columbia Records AC4K 8646-2: Carl Kress & Dick McDonough: guitars 1934
Before: That’s Carl and Dick.
After: Carl used this unusual tuning for his guitar. I don’t remember it. Howard Alden would know it (laughter). I heard Carl once, playing with Bucky (Pizzarelli). The sounds he got were pretty amazing.
Dick is amazing as well. They were great studio guitar players in their day.
(Joe Barth is author of Voices in Jazz Guitar: Great Performers Tell about Their Approach to Playing (Mel Bay) and is available at Amazon.com and other fine retailers)
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Reviews Press Stories
Interview-Listening Test for Just Jazz Guitar Magazine